This looks like a miniseries about the Avengers fighting the X-Men—and, to be sure, it is—but at its heart it’s a story about Magneto and his continued struggle to try to be the hero Charles Xavier believes he is, while protecting mutantkind the only way he knows how (which is not Charles’ way). There are several interesting scenes with Captain America in the first and last issues in which he discusses Magneto’s actions, and not much in between… and nothing in the third issue to justify that cover!
In the first issue, Cap and the newest Avenger, Doctor Druid, arrive at a K-Mart—ask your folks, kids—where a “meteor shower” is due to strike (if the other Avengers can’t divert it in time).
See Cap take charge, as he is wont to do.
After one chunk of rock lands in Mansfield, Ohio, with no injuries, the heroes discover that it is unusually magnetic and appears to contain parts of a machine… leading to the only conclusion possible. But that’s not the most shocking thing Cap reveals to the group…
Well I’m shocked, simply shocked!
The heroes revisit Magneto’s greatest crimes, including one that Cap knows about personally.
They discuss what to do about the alleged planned assassination, with She-Hulk taking the contrarian view—at least as far as superheroes are concerned—while Captain Marvel, in her first major outing since becoming team leader in last month’s Avengers #279, argues that allowing the assassination to go forward would not only be wrong on principle but horrible in its effects on precarious relations between humans and mutants. Captain America agrees, predictably focusing on the principles of justice at hand.
By the next page, the Avengers have found the Master of Magnetism, and after facing Captain Marvel and then Thor, he knows better then to put up a fight against the entire team, especially after Cap lays down the law…
…and hammers his point about justice once again.
As soon as they try to put power-cancelling shackles on him, his fellow mutants arrive on the scene, only to face Captain America’s mighty
But before Wolverine can try something stupid, the Soviet Super-Soldiers (an early version of the Winter Guard) show up and engage in a jurisdictional debate with the Avengers (with the X-Men being the monkey in the middle).
In the second issue, they all fight, as seen in the exciting double-page spread below.
The X-Men escape with Magneto (and then let him go to find the rest of his fallen base), while the Avengers handle the Soviet team. Doctor Druid uses his psychic powers to have one (Darkstar) hold the others, which Cap doesn’t like but acknowledges its necessity. (In issue #4, he makes a comment about freedom of thought that puts this in some context.)
The Avengers find Magneto—reunited with his fancy helmet, as seen on the cover—and after a bit of fighting the X-Men show up to join the fun (after all, the book is not titled Magneto Vs. Avengers). Cap asks Dazzler why they’re defending Magneto, and she refers to mutant solidarity, while Cap points out that Magneto is not just another mutant.
Soon, the base fragment explodes, and Magneto shields all the heroes from the debris before absconding with his fellow mutants, who are almost as skeptical about him as the Avengers are.
In the third issue, the Avengers track the X-Men to Singapore, where the mutants are fighting the Soviet Super-Soldiers aboard a Dutch freighter that was definitely not built for it. As for the epic Captain America-Wolverine fight shown on the cover… here is their one and only scene together in the issue:
Oh my gosh, how did they both survive that brutal throwdown?!
We do however get the humorous scene below, as She-Hulk and Havok save people aboard the sinking ship, including the Soviet Super-Soldier known as Ursa Major, who unfortunately doesn’t have torn purple pants like Jennifer’s cousin for when he reverts to human form.
In the fourth and final issue, the Avengers want some information from the authorities in charge of finding Magneto, with Captain America helping clear the way (respectfully) for Captain Marvel.
After they learn that the authorities also captured the X-Men and are holding them indefinitely, the team has even more suspicions about what they’re involved in, with Cap nonetheless urging the continued pursuit of justice, while Captain Marvel questions whether there’s any justice in the works for Magneto.
The g-men burst in to announce that the X-Men removed themselves from custody, and order the Avengers to find them (again). Captain Marvel hesitates, but Mr. Ronalds aims his disappointment at the other Cap, knowing full well that his buttons will be easier to push.
We don’t know how and why, exactly, but the Avengers agree to hunt down the X-Men, in the hopes that they can point the way to Magneto. The X-Men stand by their man, again citing mutant solidarity and echoing Monica’s point about the unlikely odds of a fair trial, neither of which seem to get through to Cap (who hasn’t forgotten his exchange on the same point with Dazzler in issue #1).
Before they can fight again, Magneto reaches out telepathically and summons the X-Men and just one Avenger—and Cap figures out how, although he doesn’t realize all of the implications until another mutant starts to tease it out.
Magneto’s actual plans are less violent but no less serious, and even the X-Men are divided on them… but Magneto is only interested in one man’s opinion, and gives him very high praise to get it.
As one would expect, Cap opposes Magneto’s plans, believing that the right to autonomy of thought, even if those thoughts are wicked, is the most basic right owed to people.
Magneto doesn’t like this answer, so he uses his helmet against Cap to cleanse his mind of anti-mutant prejudice…
…but finds none, and is so struck by this revelation that he abandons his plan, destroys the mind-control tech in his helmet, and surrenders, endorsing Xavier’s peaceful approach to human-mutant relations. (Well that was easy.)
As Magneto’s new trial approaches, the mutants Longshot and Psylocke watch Ted Koppel on TV, and Psylocke sums up Magneto to him quite succinctly.
The trial doesn’t start well for the Master of Magnetism, and that’s before Captain America takes the stand to testify to the veracity of Magneto’s claims of reformation.
“He can’t handle the truth!” (Just kidding.)
Defense counsel naturally objects to Cap giving testimony, presumably on the grounds that he is a “masked vigilante,” but come on… it’s Captain America, not Spider-Man. And his response is to the point and not in Magneto’s favor, which is somewhat disheartening given Cap’s recent interactions with him.
Later, Captain Marvel overhears the chief justice, Alexandre Gilbert du Motier, making anti-racist comments in private, but when she tells Cap, he dismisses her concerns and their relevance to the case. The first point in particular seems very unfair to Monica, who heard his comments herself—it’s not like it was hearsay—while the second point is valid, if a tad generous and naive.
Before the verdict is announced, Magneto surreptitiously reinstalls the mind-control circuitry in his helmet and uses it once more, on the chief justice, who then delivers a verdict which is surprising both in its reasoning and effect.
Uh huh, uh huh… keep going…
Yeah, I had the same reaction. Oh well, it’s not like Magneto will ever face trial again…
In the end, Magneto is surprised that neither of the other two judges objected, and wonders if du Motier was always going to render that judgment, with or without Magneto’s manipulation, just like Cap was unchanged by it earlier. I guess he’ll never know, which is one of the dangers of using mind control on people. (Perhaps Charles Xavier should’ve told him that.)
X-Men Vs. Avengers #4, July 1987: Tom DeFalco and Jim Shooter (writers), Keith Pollard (pencils), Josef Rubinstein, Bob McLeod, Al Williamson, and Al Milgrom (inks), Max Scheele (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Captain America #328 (April 1987), Avengers #278-280 (April-June 1987), Marvel Fanfare #32 (May 1987), Captain America #329-330 (May-June 1987), Marvel Graphic Novel: Emperor Doom (June 1987), Captain America #331 (July 1987), and Avengers #281 and Mephisto Vs. #4 (July 1987)